Tag Archives: Brand

Generically Speaking

This Foodie Friday, I’ve been thinking about store brands. Some of them – such as the Costco vodka really being Grey Goose at under half the price – are the stuff of legend. Other places – such as Trader Joe’s – have built entire enterprises on top of their own brands which are basically repackaged and rebranded versions of mainstream products. It’s well-known, for example, that TJ’s pita chips are made by Frito-Lay, who puts Stacy’s pita chips in TJ’s packages. Of course, you can buy a  6oz bag of Trader Joe’s Pita Chips for $1.99 whereas a 7.33oz bag of Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips sells for $2.99 or more.

An example of a Trader Joe's storefront.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of Walmart‘s Great Value branded products are just name brands rebranded. Most people can’t tell the difference between the name brand and the store brand, although in fairness, every so often the store will have the manufacturer make a minor change (a little less lemon, a little more salt) so they’re not identical products. Still, In 2012, Consumer Reports did a test. They found:

In comparing store-brand and name-brand versions of 19 products, our savings ranged from 5 percent (frozen lasagna) to 60 percent (ice cream). Many of those store brands were also as tasty as the alternative. Our sensory experts found that the store brand and name brand tied in 10 cases, the name brand won in eight cases, and the store brand won once.

So why do people continue to pay more for the same product? The easy answer is marketing. Name brands spend an awful lot of money each year to influence consumers’ perception of their products. Some of it is mistrust, particularly when it comes to store-branded drugs. Even though the law says that generic medication contains the same active ingredient as the name brand (yes, I know generic brands may have different inactive ingredients that can make them behave differently), people spend more for branded pain relievers, antacids, and other types of drugs. It’s interesting that studies show that chefs and pharmacists tend to buy generic food and drugs, respectively.

I think a good chunk of why people tend to spend the extra money has to do with experience. They expect that a brand name will provide a quality, consistent product experience. In instances where others are seeing what products are being used (guests in your home, coworkers in an office), the brand name is more socially acceptable. Finally, over time, brand names build loyalty. Once again, we end up at the cost/value equation, but we always need to remember that value isn’t just measured in dollars and cents.

I buy a lot of generics or store brands. There are, however, some things for which I pay extra because I do perceive a difference. Still, knowing that most of what’s at Trader Joe’s or Walmart or Costco is the same as what’s at the supermarket (but less expensive!) lets me splurge on those things with a clear conscience. The question for those of us that market is how we get consumers to see the value that goes along with our brand.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Following The Competition

This Foodie Friday I’d like us to think about something you’ve probably seen happen in your town. A restaurant will offer a dish that becomes insanely popular and suddenly everyone is offering their take on it. Cronuts, dishes with foams instead of sauces, or even stuffed burgers (Juicy Lucy’s) are examples. It’s not just restaurants either. One soda brand goes “clear” and suddenly everyone has a “clear” or “crystal” or something similar. The supermarket is stuffed to the gills with innovative products and the several follow-ons produced by competitors.

What does this show us? That businesses pay attention to their competition and are tracking what the other guy is doing. That’s good and important. After all, listening is a fundamental skill. Listening, however, isn’t necessarily reacting. Tracking isn’t following.

It’s not just in the food business. When Ecco had huge success with their hip spikeless golf shoes, suddenly every shoe company had a version. Of course, what the other guys missed was Ecco’s fashion sense, and some of the products were as bad as just wearing tennis shoes to play golf. Microsoft wasted a lot of time and money following Apple everywhere and producing their own versions of Apple products. Still using your Zune?

If you’re going to do your version of a competitor’s product, the impetus for that should be your customers’ expressions of need and not some knee-jerk reaction to what the competitor is doing. First, you might not understand how well the product is selling for the competition. Second, you don’t know what their costs are to produce the dish. Third, even if you do know the previously mentioned data points, you might produce an inferior version which damages your reputation and enhances that of the competition. Finally, and most importantly, follow your customers. Are they defecting to some other brand? Why? Is it to the new product or because you’ve taken them for granted in your haste to follow the other guy rather than them?

Paying attention to what the competition is doing is important but following them can be fatal. Follow your customers, not your competitors.

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Filed under Consulting, food

When Is A McDonald’s Not A McDonald’s?

It’s Foodie Friday and our Fun this week is an issue that concerns every brand. It comes to us from the good folks at McDonald’s (they seem to be Foodie Friday Fun regulars, don’t they?). According to an article in LeFigaro (h/t Eater), McDonald’s has opened a McDonald’s in Paris under the McCafe name that doesn’t serve burgers or fries. No McNuggets either. In fact, all it will serve is club sandwiches, salads, soup, and other typical cafe food. You know – the sort of stuff that’s sold by hundreds of other Parisian places which are really French and not an American company’s version of French. Yes, McCafes are nothing new but the lack of classic McDonald’s fare is.

Logo of McCafé (McDonald's).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve written before about how McDonald’s is trying to get beyond the burger/shake/fries branding and into everything from kale salads to rice bowls. This isn’t about finding a way to be successful in France either. MickeyD’s already has 1,300 stores there and France is a hugely profitable country for them. Honestly, I’m not sure what they’re thinking. I can give you a brief anecdote from personal experience, however, which might be helpful.

Several years ago, my daughter was studying in Italy. I went over there to bring her home and we were walking around Rome, my favorite food city in the world. We passed a McDonald’s and my child begged me to go inside. I asked her why, as we were surrounded by wonderful unique trattorias, ristorantes and tavernas and she wanted something that she could find everywhere once we got home. That was precisely the reason – she wanted to feel, just for a few minutes, as if she was home and not in Italy. By turning the all-American McDonald’s experience into something French, they just might be negating one reason people like to go.

The more obvious issue for any of us is what our brands stand for. It’s one thing to open a different type of restaurant under a different name,as countless brands have done with many line extensions. It’s quite another to change the meaning of the brand by changing the core product. I’m not a fan of that and think it should be avoided at all costs.

When you think of McDonald’s, you probably think of Golden Arches, Ronald McDonald, Big Macs, and fries. When you slap the McCafe name on a place that contains none of those things, you dilute the brand. Diluting a brand in its second-most profitable market is, well, not smart. I’m not loving it. You?

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Filed under food, Huh?

Politics And Your Product

Labor Day once marked the beginning of the Presidential race here in the US. That’s not true any longer as it seems we’re in a state of permanent campaigning. It does, however, mark the start of the final push for the candidates as much of the electorate is really just beginning to focus on the issues that will help them decide the results of this job interview process. Early voting begins in many states quite soon and the airwaves are filled with ads and with pundits trying to sway voters.

As you know, we don’t do politics here on the screed but we sometimes will point out a business lesson we can learn from that world. As I was watching a few of the news channels over the last few days, one issue came up over and over again with respect to the two candidates: transparency. Mr. Trump accuses Secretary Clinton of hiding information about her health, her emails, her foundation, and other things. Secretary Clinton accuses Mr. Trump about hiding his taxes, his business deals, his health, and other things as well. As an aside, I’m not quite sure how any of those issues, help do the most good for the most people, but let’s not digress. The campaign is starting to sound like the old game show: Who Do You Trust?

Both candidates haven’t been transparent and I think that’s led to a “hold your nose and vote” mentality on both sides, at least from what I can tell in speaking to my friends of all political beliefs. Neither side seems particularly enthusiastic about their candidate even if they’re supportive, and even among the ones who are excited there seems to be a recognition that their candidate has some trust issues. I think any observer would say that a lack of transparency is one of them on either side.

There is an expectation that brands – and candidates are brands – will be transparent. This is borne out by research, the latest of which was specific to the food world but I think carries over into any category. Coming from the Label Insight folks it found that:

  • Nearly all consumers (94%) are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency.
  • Almost three in four consumers (73%) say they would be willing to pay more for a product that offers complete transparency in all attributes.
  • 81% of consumers say they would consider a brand’s entire portfolio of products if they switched to that brand as a result of increased transparency
  • 56% report that additional product information about how food is produced, handled or sourced would make them trust that brand more

Maybe in the candidates’ minds there is a thought that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission but I don’t think that brands have that luxury. When we know that we’re far better served by transparency than by hiding information that’s critical to consumer decision making, why wouldn’t we choose to open up?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, What's Going On

Rethinking Brands As People

If you’ve ever spent any time working in marketing you have probably participated in a couple of exercises. One is where you work on “personas” – models of personality. One is for the brand and there are others for various customer segments. It’s an attempt to humanize the brand and to make the customer less of an abstraction. It’s the former exercise that’s our topic today, and there is an element in the brand persona process that some research shows is overlooked.

I’ve sat in meetings where the room tries to figure out our business’ personality traits. What is our attitude? Where do our values lie and what are our strengths and weaknesses? A brand does this to make it easy for customers to relate to and bond with us. That persona is then used to create everything from messaging to packaging to customer service scripts. There are a couple of areas that are common to any brand, or should be according to some research by the folks at Edelman. They released The 2016 EARNED BRAND study, which is a global online survey of 13,000 consumers in 13 countries that examines the consumer-brand relationship across 18 brand categories.

The study found that brands globally and across many categories were failing to connect. Part of that might be reflective of the things the study measured: how the brand embodies a unique character, builds trust at every touchpoint, and invites sharing, inspires partnership. Generally, most brands come up very short on those traits and that prompted a thought.

Maybe instead of just figuring out what our brand is we ought to spend time trying to really humanize it by behaving in ways that a good friend ought to. Think about your closest friends. The three characteristics enumerated above and among those measured by the survey are probably things you’d say about your close friends. In business, it’s not just about who were are as a brand but how we present ourselves and treat our customers. As brands, if we want to be “people” perhaps we ought to start acting as good people do. Listen more, be memorable, do good things in our communities, and build trust.

Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting

How’s That Going?

Sometimes when I meet people and they describe their work lives to me, I’ll listen as they tell me what they’re doing and then follow up with a simple question: “how’s that going for you?” You’ve probably done something similar, and I bet that you rarely get “I don’t know” for an answer. I certainly don’t, and it concerns me when I do since how can you not have some feeling about so important a topic that occupies much of your waking day? 

What made me think of that was a report put out by the folks at Rundown. It took a look at how companies feel about their content creation process and the subsequent content marketing. It’s instructive to any business regardless if you’re doing content marketing or not. You can look at a summary of the report here.

Almost 80% of the surveyed content marketers agree or strongly agree that their team “makes awesome content that our audience loves.” That’s great, except for that pesky follow-up question – “how is it going?” You see, 52% of these same people disagreed that ” My team has a clear understanding of what works and why.” 55% disagreed that they knew how much each type of content costs to produce, and an astonishing 82% disagreed that they have a good understanding of the ROI on the content creation and marketing investment.

I’m not going to pontificate about in which activities a business should or should not engage.  I will say, however, that no matter which ones they are, it’s imperative that there is a handle on costs as well as some measure of ROI.  I am cringing as I think about answering any of the people for whom I worked with “I don’t know” when asked about what something cost or how it was impacting our goals (revenue, engagement, whatever).  Resources are precious.  So are measurable, actionable data about the results of activities we undertake using those resources.  Saying you make “awesome content” (or anything else) doesn’t resonate with me unless part of “awesome” is moving the business forward.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?


This Foodie Friday, we’ll return to the land of Top Chef.  Not only is it my favorite show on TV (House of Cards isn’t really TV now, is it?), but it almost always inspires broader thinking about business for me.  Last night was the conclusion of the annual restaurant wars competition in which two teams of contestants have 24 hours to conceive and execute a restaurant.  The losing team (and they really did deserve to lose) made some key errors, from which I think we can all learn a couple of things. 

First, their menu had no focus. Some of it was Asian inspired, some of it was Italian, some of it was influenced by the chef’s ego and nothing else.  There was no cohesiveness to the meal.  Any restaurant – and any brand – makes a promise.  I like this explanation:

A strong brand promise is one that connects your purpose, your positioning, your strategy, your people and your customer experience. It enables you to deliver your brand in a way that connects emotionally with your customers and differentiates your brand.

With no focus to the items being served, there was no connection – emotional or otherwise – to the diners. The next issue was execution. As incoherent as the menu was, had the dishes been prepared extremely well and had the service been spectacular, the dining experience might have been saved. Unfortunately, most of the dishes the losing team served were awful, led by a salad of strawberries, pickled cucumber, roasted beets, and arugula with a strawberry champagne gazpacho. The gloppy “gazpacho” was more like a desert sauce and the judges hated this dish. There was a pork belly served in a consomme that apparently was almost all vinegar. You know there is a problem when every shot of someone tasting it shows them looking like they’d just bitten into a lemon.

Great execution can make up for many flaws.  That too is part of delivering on the brand promise.  I’ve certainly been to restaurants where the food was just ok but excellent, personable service and reasonable prices made it someplace to which I’d return.

It’s one thing to make a promise.  It’s quite another to deliver.  Are you doing that?


Filed under Consulting, food